From Principle to Practice: A User’s Guide to Do No Harm

Marshall Wallace


This book contains the lessons learned from the Do No Harm Project over the past twenty years. These lessons are largely techniques that allow practitioners to work in complex environments with confidence and effectiveness.

Key Findings:

The six overarching lessons learned by the Do No Harm Project form the basis of understanding how interventions have impacts. They outline the factors that together afford a coherent understanding of a context and the interaction of an intervention with that context.

  • Interventions become part of the context. An intervention is intended to have an impact. This is the point. Therefore, practitioners cannot claim separation from the context. It is a hopeful sign to note that interventions create change. However, they also create ripples of unintended change. In order to ensure the intended positive impact, a context analysis must be performed.
  • Contexts are characterised by dividers and connectors. There are issues, factors and elements in societies which divide people from each other and serve as sources of tension. There are also always issues, factors and elements which connect people and can serve as local capacities for peace.
  • Interventions interact with dividers and connectors. Outside interventions will always interact with both, and understanding these elements is critical to understanding how interventions can support or undermine both types of factors.
  • Actions and behaviours have consequences. Interventions always bring in two types of things: resources and people who demonstrate their values through their behaviours. Practitioners can have dividing or connecting mindsets, and they communicate this attitude and perspective to the people with whom they interact, thereby affecting dividers and connectors.
  • The details of interventions matter. Impacts come from the details, not the whole. By analysing the details of an intervention—the choices—one can determine how Actions and Behaviours impact the context. Choices constrain actions, limiting the wary a situation is perceived, as well as limiting the responses. It is crucial to remember that practitioners set these limits. Every choice can be remade in order to change the impact.
  • There are always options. Options grow out of understanding the Actions and Behaviours. Generating options is done better by teams. Nothing is irrevocable. New decisions can always be made. There has never been a perfect project and there never will be, but improvement can always be made by new and better decisions.


Wallace, M. (2014). From Principle to Practice: A User’s Guide to Do No Harm. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.